Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dorothy, Dates & Egyptian Cabdrivers

Yesterday was the most bizarre day of my life. It included realizing that I have some intensely amazing friends (Mordy & Jeremy) and know some fantastic people. Both of these people were willing to let me stay at their house on literally a moment's notice. The beautiful part of this was that we made plans over IM, of all things (just before I was about to hop on a plane.) Then Jeremy called to offer to pick me up from the airport, although I unfortunately could not acquiesce. I am lucky and just know some truly amazing people.

The interesting part of this story begins once I get on the 1 train. See, I had taken a bus from LaGuardia to Port Authority and then decided to take the 1. Stupidly, I had placed a $50 bill in my translucent Stern ID case (which hangs around my neck.) I am clutching a metal pole for dear life, uncomfortably forcing my duffel bag into my hip when a buff, dirty painter enters the train (with a strong Brooklyn accent.) Here is the conversation we had:

Painter: (looks me up and down and leers pleasantly, a cracked grin on his face) You're not from New York, are you, sweetheart?

Me: Is it that obvious?

Painter: Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore. (nods at the $50 which is clearly visible to all) That thing around your neck. Someone would be happy to take that off of you. Put it away.

Me: (probably blushing) Oh, yeah.

Painter: (grinning) You're in Adventureland now.

Me: The Emerald City?

Painter: Hardly. And where's Toto?

This is probably one of the most surreal conversations I have ever had, especially since I had to remain uncomfortably close to the man for the rest of my ride (short, thank God). When I left I smiled at him and called "Thanks for the tip!" and he smiled back.

But it gets better. I later find it necessary to take a taxi. I accomplish this by making a tentative swanlike motion with my arm on a streetcorner (I immediately hailed a cab; isn't that crazy?) This was to be my first time taking a taxi in New York.

I dump my belongings in the trunk, throw myself into the back seat (awkward, now that I think about it. Possibly I should have sat up front...but honestly, it's better this way.)

Cabdriver: Where to?

Me: (gives address)

(we make polite conversation)

Cabdriver: You're not from New York, are you?

Me: (*thinks* Why is everyone able to tell that about me?) No, I'm not. Why?

Cabdriver: Oh, because if you were, you'd be talking on your cell phone by now and cataloguing a whole list of complaints. Besides, you are willing to have a conversation.

Me: So you can actually tell who is and who isn't from New York based on how they behave?

Cabdriver: Sure!

So we get into a long and involved conversation during which he explains that he is originally from Egypt, studied at Cairo University and now is spending a year in New York. His father has a PhD in Psychology; everyone in his family is highly educated. He asks me where I go to school; I say YU; he thinks I said NYU. I realize it is not a good idea for me to correct him (I'm alone in a cab with an Egyptian Arabic man) and let him think that. He asks me whether the tuition is expensive; I say it is. Then I ask him to explain the lifestyle in Egypt and he does. One amusing comment- he says that his friend was trying to take him sightseeing and showed him this "old" building in New York that is 200 years old; he laughed out loud because he lives right near a pyramid that is 5000 years old. We got into whether he/ I would prefer to live in a suburb or in a city. Then I asked him what he would wish for if he had three wishes.

Cabdriver: To find my life Egypt we have a name for it, it translates to "my other half."

Me: That's beautiful!

Cabdriver: Also, to have a good and successful future and fulfill my dreams. I don't mean to be selfish but it is necessary...

Me: No, for sure. That's a completely legitimate request.

During the course of this conversation, he tells me stories of the people he's met. The law is such that he can't turn down anyone who wants to pay for a ride. So he tells me of some terrifying rides where he just wants to get out of it alive (doesn't want the money.) Driving drug dealers and such, people who are dangerous. So I obviously find that interesting. Then he says something very intriguing about how cabdriving for him is a "social experiment" and that he has learned a lot about people through doing this- he gets to really experience the city this way. He talks about the importance of listening, that it is far more important to listen than to speak.

(That makes at least three people who have talked about listening lately- my friend, my hairstylist and my cabdriver. I think God is trying to tell me something.)

So I get him to talk about politics, just to see what he's like. Oh dear. I wonder what he would have said had he known I was Jewish. He goes on about how Israel is a democracy, but not a complete one and 40% of the citizens (all the Arabic ones) have no rights. And they're the natives! And everyone else immigrated there, and it's not fair! His views are polite, however, and not passionate diatribes (which I appreciate.)

We finally reach my destination and we are ready to disembark. He says, "I want to see you again! I want to give you my phone number. Feel free to call any time you want" and gives me this cheerful smile.

Oh, we have reached a new level in the list of crazy things that happen to me. Now I am being propositioned by my cabdriver.

I smile as well and politely ignore the comment, pretending I haven't heard it.

He continues, "Can I help you with your luggage?" obviously desperate to get into what he thinks is my apartment.

I smile again. "No thank you," I say.

I swear, this stuff only happens to me.

(Probably not. Probably it happens to a lot of people. But it is certainly a fun way to remember my first cabride in New York.)


e-kvetcher said...

I swear, this stuff only happens to me.

(Probably not. Probably it happens to a lot of people.

At least one other person

Rebecca said...

That's quite a story, Chana!
And to be sure, I almost never take the frontseat unless I have to. It's always safer to take the back, in my opinion.

By the way, what was the cab driver's third wish?

Larry Lennhoff said...

Could be worse

PsychoToddler said...

You're not from NY, are you?

Daniel said...

It's because you have chen, which is a very attractive quality. It's because of your name; my sister is also called Hannah/Chana, and she also has it, and people act with chen towards her.

I, on the other hand, have a first name that connotes din, I was born the day after Tisha B'Av, and I have a second name in common with another fast (Gedaliah, not Esther), so obviously I am treated according to the dictates of strict justice.

OK, I don't really believe all of this (apart from the very first sentence) - most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you were a hitman and the driver was jamie fox, you could base a movie on this.

Anonymous said...

a word of advice, don't ever sit in the front seat, unless there are four people in the cab. rebecca is right, it is safer to sit in the back, and anyway most cabbies would prefer you to sit back there so they could continue blabbing on their cell phones.

SJ said...

Love your stories...

Though it's never happened to me in NYC, in Israel I found that being asked out by cab drivers was a pretty common occurence.

Halfnutcase said...

it is safer to sit in the back


I don't sit in the front because I don't want to be that close to strange men, but I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

halfnutcase- yeah, its about getting that close to strange men. All right, I've never heard any horror stories in America, but in Israel sitting in the front seat is basically asking for unwanted advances, trust me.

Corner Point said...

Personally, I'm pretty scared even talking to strange men, let alone sitting next to them in cabs. Especially at night...

I always have this urge to pretend I'm deaf so I won't have to interact with them...but the one time I try it, just watch, the cabbie will know sign language--and probably have no problem using it while driving, too... :-)

dustfinger said...

Although I'm so happy I wasn't in that situation because I would have flipped or something....

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience with the "Kansas" and "Toto" line about a year ago.

(I am a fully seasoned ex-New Yorker but I lost my rough NY vibes when I moved out many years ago and I now come across as a sweet hick from the sticks.)

I was visiting NYC on a sunday when my car with out of state plates suddenly had transmission problems and it would not move from the parking spot. So, I had to stay overnight, had it towed to a dealership in Long Island city ($350.) I was quoted an outrageous price to fix it without the guy even looking at it. I balked at the price. That's when I got the Kansas/Toto mockery. My car was promptly placed back on the street and I was told to go try the transmission place down the road.
I complained that my car would not drive but when I got in it, miraculously, it was driveable and I was able to drive home with it.
The whole time I was driving home, I was cursing and telling my self what an awful place New York is and how rotten the people are.
I brought it to my transmission place at home the next day, I was charged $75. and the guy told me he could find nothing wrong with it.

To this day, I still feel like it was a bizarre incident and it was somehow an act of God telling me to leave NY.

Jack's Shack said...

New York, what a fun place.

Scraps said...

Haha. Gotta love New York. I've had my share of crazy stories, though yours are quite entertaining (and I must have been living in NYC for waaaay too long, because I wouldn't have dreamed of getting on a subway with a $50 bill in plain sight--that's just asking someone to take it, dear). I've never been asked out by a cabbie before, though. :)

the apple said...

I once took a cab and the driver was breaking up with his girlfriend on speaker phone.
Him: "Baby, I don't know, you know, baby? I think I just ... need a break, baby."
Her: "But ... but ... baby, I love you."
Him: "I know, baby. I just ... need a break, you know?"


There are also cabdrivers who ask out seminary girls in Israel. It gets creepy after a while.

Shoshana said...

It's not just you. When you happen to be friendly and nice in NY, these kinds of experiences happen all the time. I've been offered a trip to Nepal :)

anonymous mom said...

How about the category of life-changing advice from a cabbie: "What does it matter when you get there, as long as you're healthy." or "You gotta thank G-d for the small things, right?"...and a few more I can't remember. I live in the burbs now.

roeheshanolad said...


I am curious to hear your comment to my comment on the 1984 thread.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Nice post. I feel like these type of things happen to me.